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No. 7 Maryland women’s lacrosse starts flat, falls to No. 21 Penn State, 15-13, to open season

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The Terps struggled on offense in the first half and the Nittany Lions won down the stretch.

2019 NCAA Division I Women’s Lacrosse Championship Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

With the score tied at 13 and 3:07 remaining, Libby May lined up for another free position shot in hopes of doing what she has done all afternoon given those chances. However, her bullet shot hit the right side post, giving Penn State the opportunity to put this one away on the other end.

A free position chance for Penn State was brought back out, giving Olivia Dirks the open space to cut down the middle seam of Maryland’s defense and rifle in the go-ahead goal with 2:09 remaining in the game.

This goal would be the deciding factor in this clash of Big Ten foes, as Maryland dropped its first ever conference regular season game, 15-13.

“I would think about being back on the field every single day,” May said. “It was just really nice to get back to playing with my teammates and getting a chance to compete.”

The No. 7 Maryland Terrapins waited 351 days to take the field once again after an unceremonious end to last season due to the coronavirus pandemic. After starting so poorly last season, Maryland looked to get off on the right foot against No. 21 Penn State, a team that it hadn’t lost to since joining the Big Ten in 2014.

Hannah Warther won the opening draw for the Terps to get things under way in Happy Valley, but two free position opportunities in the early going were turned away by the stout Nittany Lion defense.

Grace Griffin was able to work her magic to put Maryland on the board. Off of a shot by Libby May, Penn State goalkeeper Taylor Suplee couldn’t handle the ball, leading Griffin to scoop it up in the heart of the crease and shovel in a low ball to make it 1-0.

Penn State responded two minutes later via a free position goal from Kristin O’Neill, her fifth of the season.

Maryland had another opportunity squandered by Penn State’s tough defense, this time on a 4-3 breakaway that resulted in an errant pass. The Nittany Lions responded with Maria Auth sneaking in a two-handed overhead shot, followed by a goal from Sophia Triandafils to put Maryland in an early 3-1 hole with just over ten minutes gone by in the half.

A forced shot clock violation by the Terps looked to change the tides in this one, but Libby May’s solid footwork couldn’t result in a Maryland goal as her second shot was denied. Her sister, Catie, had an answer however, rifling in a free position goal to cut the deficit to one with 14:38 remaining.

After Penn State scored 26 seconds later off of O’Neill’s second goal of the day, Libby May got her third shot to find the back of the net, assisted by her sister from behind the net.

A minute and a half later, the May sisters switched it up a bit. Libby May took a breakaway the distance before finding her older sister open down low for the equalizer.

Looking to shut down the May momentum from the Terrapins, following a timeout from the Nittany Lions, the team embarked on a 4-0 run in the final 11:14 of the half to take an 8-4 lead.

A stagnant end to the half by the Terps showcased Maryland’s struggles to put together offense. As a team, Maryland took 17 total shots resulting in just four goals, putting the Terps in a larger hole than envisioned.

Maryland needed a quick response in the second frame after a poor showing to end the first half and that’s what they got on three free position goals from Brindi Griffin, Shaylan Ahearn and Hannah Leubecker.

Griffin’s free position attempt 57 seconds into the second half was rifled into the top right corner, while Ahearn’s free position goal three minutes later was low bouncer. Leubecker’s was almost a mirror image of Ahearn’s as she took it from the left side of the crease and bounced it in low to cut the deficit to one.

After taking hold of a two goal lead at the midway point of the second half, Penn State began to milk the clock down on offense, but Maryland executed when the ball was in their hands. Freshman Kacy Hogarth took the ball the distance off a turnover by the Nittany Lions before dishing it to Libby May on the right side. May then rifled the ball as soon as it found her stick to a wide open Brindi Griffin underneath for the score.

May followed up her precise dish to Griffin with a free position goal to tie the game just 51 seconds later.

With Maryland’s offense beginning to come alive in the second half, Penn State halted the Terps’ momentum once again, this time on two quick goals from Gretchen Gilmore and Dirks.

Libby May continued to be a menace in this one, scoring on the free position once again before tying the game with just over ten minutes to play on a speedy cutback on the left side, bringing her total to a team-high four goals.

“I’m so proud of how hard she works and being able to put it together on the field just makes me happy,” Catie May said.

The Nittany Lions responded seconds later, capping off a three-goal stretch between the 11 and 10 minute mark. Another free position goal for the Terps, this time via Victoria Hensh, tied the game once again as the game clock dwindled down to below seven minutes.

The teams continued to trade goals, with Dirks executing for the Nittany Lions before Leubecker tied the game back up at 13 with 3:59 remaining.

With the clock winding down, Penn State sat on the ball until Dirks converted once again on a cutback down the lefthand seam, sealing the huge upset for the Nittany Lions and starting the Terps’ season at 0-1, a first for coach Reese at Maryland.

“I hope it’s what we needed,” Reese said. “You need to be ready to sink or swim ... I think this experience is just going to set us up on the rigors and toughness of mentally and physically what it takes to compete in our conference.”

Three things to know

1. Free position goals were flooding in. Maryland’s first half was abysmal on the offensive side of the ball, as the team’s 17 shots resulted in just four goals. The May sisters combined for three, but the rest of the team struggled to find its footing. After starting the game 1-5 from the free position, Maryland scored six free position goals in the second half on nine attempts, bringing their percentage to 50% on the afternoon.

2. Draw controls were key. What kept Maryland afloat in this match was the ability to lock down 50/50 balls at the draws. There was mild concern heading into the season as the team’s two leading draw controllers — Kali Hartshorn and Emma Schettig — were gone. But coach Reese had all the confidence in her up and coming stars, especially Ahearn, who led the team with nine draw controls as Maryland dominated Penn State in that department, 23-6.

“She stepped right into that role and controlled the midfield for us on the draw circle,” Reese said. “We had some great possessions, great job by our draw people, but then just too many unforced errors.”

3. Emily Sterling got all 60 minutes. Despite junior Maddie McSally seeing action in all six matchups and starting five in 2020, it was sophomore Emily Sterling who got the nod to kick-off the 2021 campaign. Rebounds were an issue early on, allowing the Nittany Lions to help push out in front, but a solid second half effort allowed the offense to fight back. Sterling finished with eight saves, 15 goals against and stopped 34.8% of shots against.